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“We do have a legislature, don’t we, that could place some limits on what the government asks employees or anybody else?” Justice Scalia said.

“Absolutely,” Mr. Katyal replied.

“It’s the same legislature that prohibited the government from disclosing a lot of information, isn’t it?” he said. “And it’s possible that that’s the protection that the [Constitution] framers envisioned, rather than having courts ride herd on government inquiries.”

Mr. Katyal also noted that the forms that included the question about drug treatment have been given to 74,000 federal contractors, including those involved in the case, during the past five years. He said 128 contractors did not pass the background check, but none of those was for disclosing drug treatment.

The form also questions whether the applicant has used drugs, but Mr. Katyal said the question about drug treatment is for the employee’s benefit as a way to mitigate a positive answer to the drug question.

Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. was skeptical.

“Well, whenever the government comes and says, ‘This is for your own good,’ you have to be a little suspicious,” Chief Justice Roberts said, drawing laughter from the audience.